The Madurai bench of Madras High Court on Friday disposed of two petitions seeking to restrain the police from frequently searching clubs for ‘suspicious activities.’ The case pertains to searches conducted by the police for activities prohibited under the Tamil Nadu Gaming Act, 1930 and the Public Gambling Act, 1867. The petitioners have been running the recreation centre/sports club as per rules and regulations for the welfare of the members and they used to arrange indoor games of skill, viz., chess, carom, rummy 13 cards and table tennis, etc and are subjected to frequent police searches and enquiries.
The Judge directed that no police officer shall straightway walk into recreational and sports clubs to conduct a raid/search without adequate reason to believe that such a place is used as an illegal gaming house. “Ours is a democratic society and every citizen and association of citizens has the right of privacy. If that privacy is getting invaded indiscriminately, then there would be an end for all the democratic way of life and the rule of the law,” Justice Krishnan Ramasamy said.
The Court said that if privacy was invaded indiscriminately, that would be the end of the democratic way of life and the rule of the law. He said, however, under the guise of privacy, no citizen or association of persons can indulge in illegal or unlawful activities. At the same time, under the guise of suspicion, no police officer can walk into the place (clubs) and conduct searches without reason to believe that such place is used as a gaming house. The Court referred to the decision of Justice K.S.Puttasamy & Anr vs Union of India & Ors (2017) 10 SCC 1.
In the Puttaswamy case, the Apex Court expanded and broadened the horizon of Article 21 of the Constitution to bring within its ambit the ‘Right to privacy. “Once when the statute makes it amply clear that a procedure is to be followed, the insistence of installing CCTV in all areas to supposedly catch hold of the wrong doers will not bode well with the dictum laid down by the Supreme Court,” the Court held.
The Court directed that even raids with reasonable inputs can be conducted only by police officers in the cadre of DSP or assistant commissioner, or by an officer not below the rank of sub-inspector with a warrant, the court said.
The judge said that, “When a person becomes a member of a club and intends to spend time in the club’s premises to relax or unwind with friends and family, he/she expects that his private space is not intruded.” Having CCTVs at playing areas or swimming or walking or eating or drinking and footage accessible to policemen at any time would not only make his right to privacy redundant but also offend and deprive the person’s cherished right for the sake of an alleged offender who might be playing games for money or betting or wagering, the Judge said.
“Suspicion, howsoever strong, cannot take the place of proof. Today, many persons, including families, visit clubs and avail facilities like swimming pool, dining and restaurant, walking area, indoor and outdoor games, steam bath and bar. They come to unwind and spend some quality time with friends and family,” Justice Ramasamy said disposing of the petitions.
“To cast a doubt on every single person entering the club, thinking they might commit an offence, and subject them to complete CCTV surveillance does not have any rational or objective basis. To brand every single person entering a club as capable of committing an offence of gaming for profit/betting/wagering is indicative of the narrow and archaic mindset of the police,” Justice Ramasamy said.
Justice Krishnan Ramasamy further said that courts have repeatedly held that law has to adapt itself to the changing social and societal needs, the Tamil Nadu Gaming Act and the Public Gambling Act are legislations of the Victorian era which have not completely adopted new amendments from time to time. “Those days there were exclusive gambling dens or gaming houses where even innocent people visited and lost huge monies leading to devastating effects on them and their family. But now this concept of gaming houses or gambling dens is not present and only in a few clubs which are under the control of suspicious and unethical elements, gambling takes place.”
In September last year, in a similar case, Justice S. M. Subramaniam of the Madras High Court has directed the Inspector General of Registration (IGR) to inspect all registered societies, including recreation clubs registered under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act of 1975, and initiate appropriate action against those who indulge in illegal activities and act in contravention of the bylaws. The Judge in this case directed the DGP to issue a circular directing the police authorities across the State to share a copy of the FIR booked against registered societies, with the Registration Department officials so that appropriate action can be initiated under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act.